Michelle Legro | Longreads | April 2017 | 7 minutes (1,773 words)
Day 100 is a Saturday, which is good because Donald Trump should probably get some rest. Saturdays are usually fairly easy for him—he took the first one off right after his own inauguration—a day he can kick back and an enjoy some quality time with a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump Administration has introduced the American people to a new kind of time, one that moves with a glacial tick of the clock, but with the drama of a high school lunch period. To look back on the early days—yes, that was three months ago—is to find reporters breathlessly navigating the events of a single day in a series of tweets, with little time for a proper write-up before the next dramatic turn of events. We found ourselves asking what the fuck just happened today? as it became harder and harder to remember what happened an hour ago, let alone a day. However, it became clear very quickly that journalists were digging in for the long fight. And while most of the best reporting and essays were short and spry, often because they had to be in this hyped-up news cycle, these were some of the longreads that stood out.
1. “The First Days Inside Trump’s White House: Fury, Tumult and a Reboot” (Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Matea Gold, Washington Post, January 2017)
Baby’s first reboot came within days of the Inauguration—three days, to be exact. The Washington Post set the pace early with the kind of gossipy piece that would become common for this administration. (“Sixteen White House officials spoke with our writers on the condition of anonymity.”) Palace intrigue became its own sideshow, and it was possible to guess at who was saying what about whom, especially when the way you speak is unique to only you.
2. “The Styrofoam Presidency” (Masha Gessen, The New York Review of Books, January 2017)
It would be impossible to invent a person with worse personal taste than Donald Trump, a man who eats expensive steaks burned to a crisp, wears expensive suits that are tailored like a burlap sack, who nods along to Three Doors Down while they play on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Surely this man, who is obsessed with pomp and circumstance, could enjoy something beautiful.
Masha Gessen has been an essential voice during the first hundred days, but this brief essay for the NYRB was one of the few that addressed something we all knew but couldn’t quite get to the heart of—Donald Trump’s aesthetics—by analyzing the inauguration cake, which had been plagiarized from the Obama inauguration down to the last fondant swirl.
The cake may be the best symbol yet of the incoming administration: much of what little it brings is plagiarized, and most of it is unusable for the purpose for which presidential administrations are usually intended. Not only does it not achieve excellence: it does not even see the point of excellence.
3. “Becoming American in the Age of Trump” (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine, January 2017)
Sullivan had some extraordinarily bad takes in the first hundred days of the Trump presidency, but this essay, about becoming a naturalized citizen, was a love letter to an America that was getting hard to recognize. “People talk about the American Dream all the time, usually as a story of increased prosperity generation after generation. But the original dream—the dream of the first generation—is often simply of an escape from the past into a country addicted to the future.”
4. “The Radical Crusade of Mike Pence” (Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone, January 2017)
The quiet man on on the campaign trail, Mike Pence dazzled everyone he met with his seeming competence. As a lifeline to the GOP, Pence became the pawn in everyone’s favorite game of 3D chess: Would Congress impeach Trump for Pence right out of the gate? On day 100, it’s looking more and more unlikely, but Stephen Rodrick’s profile should prepare us for the kind of leader we can expect should the unthinkable happen.
During my travels across the self-proclaimed Crossroads of America, I learned that Mike Pence had once paid his mortgage with campaign funds, dragged his feet during an HIV epidemic and a lead-poisoning outbreak, signed an anti-gay-rights bill that nearly cost Indiana millions of dollars, lost his mind on national TV with George Stephanopoulos, and turned away Syrian refugees in an unconstitutional ploy laughed out of federal court. And he ended his gubernatorial term unpopular enough that his re-election bid in a Republican state seemed dicey at best.
Pence is the nation’s 48th vice president. Nine vice presidents have assumed the presidency as a result of death or resignation. That’s a 19 percent ascendancy rate. Between Trump’s trigger-happy Twitter persona, the ethical nightmare of his business empire, his KFC addiction and possible entanglements with Vladimir Putin, I’d say the chances for Mike Pence are more than 50-50.
5. “Actually, How Trump Likes His Steaks Matters” (Helen Rosner, Eater, February 2017)
Steak-gate may have seemed like a passing detail in a pool report, but Rosner turned it into into a referendum on taste, choice, and the risk to try something new.
Adults who won’t eat pink-hearted steaks might lean on any number of reasons for their position, but almost always it comes down to an aversion to risk, which is at its core an unwillingness to trust the validity and goodwill of any experiences beyond the limited sphere of one’s own. It is—and we’re talking about steak here, so don’t get huffy—a confession of a certain timidity, a defensiveness, an insecurity. It’s not just a fear of change, it’s also a bone-deep fear that the way you’ve always done something—the way that, without outside intervention, you might continue always do it—will turn out not to have been the best way for you after all. The risk of that private humiliation can easily outweigh any benefit that could come from your new, better way. It means that when presented with a risk, you make the choice not to trust.
6. “What Can Ivanka Trump Possibly Do for Women Who Work?” (Amy Wilentz, The Nation, February 2017)
The rise of Ivanka Trump to a role in the White House was inevitable, and much has been said about her supposed tempering influence, especially when she was reportedly the source for Trump’s change of heart in his decision to bomb Syria.
But Ivanka’s power is not the same thing as the empowerment she so desperately wants to sell, and Wilentz takes a long, cold look at Ivanka’s time by her father’s side, in which she is touted as the “exceptional woman” who is “used to prove that everything is fine for everyone else of their kind.”
Trump doesn’t respect his daughter as a free agent and key adviser, a role that, of all the women around Trump, only former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway—now a White House counselor—seems to inhabit. Rather, Trump respects Ivanka because of her business acumen, learned from him; no doubt he respects her cojones, which are his cojones, and he probably appreciates her “weaponized graciousness,” as Emily Nussbaum termed it in The New Yorker. He also appreciates that her intelligence and ability and attractiveness and poise make him look good. Like any good narcissist, he respects her because she reflects him. In other words, Ivanka is a wholly owned subsidiary of “My Father,” as she almost religiously called him at the Republican convention.
7. “What Just Happened?” (Alex Shephard, The New Republic, March 2017)
For the past 100 days, Shephard has opened his weekly round-up of presidential insanity with the always-prescient wisdom of dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, reminding us that this week was pretty bad, but next week will surely be worse.
“The real, the unique misfortune: to see the light of day,” wrote the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran in his 1973 masterwork, The Trouble With Being Born. “A disaster which dates back to aggressiveness, to the seed of expansion and rage within origins, to the tendency to the worst which first shook them up.” Cioran was writing about the trouble with being born, a problem that even suicide could not fix. But Cioran could just as well have been writing about President Donald Trump’s twelfth week in office…
8. “Trump’s Worst Deal” (Adam Davidson, The New Yorker, March 2017)
Davidson dug deep on a sketchy deal the Trump Organization oversaw in Azerbaijan, where the Trump Tower Baku is linked to notoriously corrupt oligarchs and financiers of terrorism.
No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.
9. The Transcripts (The New York Times, AP, The Washington Post, Reuters)
After a complaint from Trump that the New York Times wasn’t accurately reporting what he said, the editors decided that formal interviews with the President would be published with a transcript. And thus a new form of horror began: the incoherent insanity of Trump unbound. The transcript of an interview with the AP from April 23 set a new record for the times a transcriber would have to use the phrase [unintelligible]. And just yesterday, Reuters release the transcript of an interview in which Trump waxes nostalgic for his old life, “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going…I thought it would be easier.”
10. “How to Build an Autocracy” (David Frum, The Atlantic, March 2017)
The first paragraphs of Frum’s thinkpiece, which take place on the eve of Trump’s second inauguration, are terrifying in their normalcy. But this, he explains, is how it begins.
People crack jokes about Trump’s National Security Agency listening in on them. They cannot deeply mean it; after all, there’s no less sexting in America today than four years ago. Still, with all the hacks and leaks happening these days—particularly to the politically outspoken—it’s just common sense to be careful what you say in an email or on the phone. When has politics not been a dirty business? When have the rich and powerful not mostly gotten their way? The smart thing to do is tune out the political yammer, mind your own business, enjoy a relatively prosperous time, and leave the questions to the troublemakers.